Happy Birthday, Gypsy Rose Lee

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing slowly… Very slowly.”

Rose Louise Horvick, a.k.a. Gypsy Rose Lee (1/9/1911 – 4/26/1970) kept the curtains of vaudeville open just a little longer–and a little more suggestively–with her tasteful take on the striptease. Much of what I know about Rose Louise I learned from Natalie Wood in the movie Gypsy, which is based off of the biography of the same name (spoiler: films based off of books may not be 100% accurate). All the same, Rose Louise had a fascinating life that’s worth examining. She began performing on stage as a child, spending her days singing and dancing in the background for her little sister June as willed by her ostentatious mother (also named Rose). June grew older and more resentful of her baby-girl characters and her mother’s constant pressing, deciding to quit the act at the ripe age of 13. Her mother had no choice but to give Rose Louise top billing in a new show, less baby-girl and more burlesque. Taking the name Gypsy Rose Lee, Rose Louise took off her gloves on stage–and a performing art was born.

Besides pioneering the classy gal’s striptease, Rose Louise was also a film actress and writer, but the story of “Gypsy” is perhaps her greatest legacy. In addition to the bestselling book and popular film, “Gypsy” was transformed into a Broadway musical with the help of Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim.

For more on Gypsy, check out the bios at IMDB, TIME or NPR.

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